Monday, March 20, 2006

He hath laboured as though to give birth to a Camel, but hath brought forth not much more than a Fart

Dave's Epistle to the Guardians is out. As one might have expected from a joint venture between Aaro, the internet's biggest bore, and the fifth funniest panelist on the News Quiz, it is voluminous and makes heavy reading, so I summarise it below. It's pretty weak beer to be honest. I have read the thing and they are trying to have it much stronger than the evidence supports. As far as I can see, the facts are that if you asked Chomsky "hey Noam, was there a massacre in Srebenica?", he would answer "yes but ...". Which is a damn stupid answer, and he should be damned twelve ways to Tuesday for saying "but", but it is not the same thing as "no".

The charge sheet that A,K & W (by the way, which of them is the one that hasn't written for the Guardian? Kamm, I suppose, but I could have sworn I'd seen the occasional bit and piece by him) put together is more or less as follows:

1. Diane Johnstone quibbles in an unsavoury manner about body counts.

STATUS: true as far as I can see, but AKW are not exactly innocent of this themselves on occasions when it is convenient to them; only last week Aaronovitch was trying to pretend that the Lancet survey of Iraq was dodgy.

2. Diane Johnstone is a partisan of the Bosnian Serb cause and thinks the Muslims have it coming

STATUS: not really proven; they assemble a load of evidence of her providing context for the massacre but not enough to convince me she's an apologist. And after all, even if the Bosnian Muslims were the very incarnation of Al-Qaeda it would still not be OK to massacre thousands of them.

3. Diane Johnstone doesn't call something "genocide" when according to specific international law standards it was one.

STATUS: correct but irrelevant. Nobody deserves to be accused of the equivalent of Holocaust denial on the basis of a linguistic quibble and it is clear that the less inclusive definition of genocide that Johnstone uses is not in any way bizarre or perverse.

4. Chomsky defends Johnstone on the specifics of her argument rather than on general free speech grounds.

STATUS: much weaker than you would think given that this is the whole point of the letter. Exhibit A is simply Chomsky arguing against something similar to point 3 above in a letter. From this, AK&W go on to argue he must therefore be implicitly endorsing her whole bill of goods, which is just absurd.

Exhibit B is Chomsky saying that Johnstone's book wasn't a piece of worthless hack scholarship of the sort that David Irving has put out in recent years. Again, this is a very thin reed on which to support the assumption that Chomsky buys the whole bill of goods. If we were operating on this basis, I could take my pick of the Frontpage Magazine litany of lunacy and claim that Oliver Kamm endorses it, which would be fun if true but sadly isn't.

5. Chomsky "meanwhiles" about Srebenica by banging on about East Timor.

STATUS: This is true, and it is one of the reasons I don't like Chomsky is that there is some gravitational force which brings him to say "well what about East Timor" at some stage in any conversation, usually when his back is up against the wall about some other idiot thing he has said. But the Guardian didn't write a headline saying "Chomsky is full of it about East Timor", it wrote one saying "Chomsky denies Srebenica".

The trouble appears to me that AK&W are actually writing a defence of Oliver Kamm's own article about Chomsky which appeared in Prospect, not Emma Brockes' article which appeared in the Guardian. If Emma Brockes had made all the points that she made, without making very specific claims about what Chomsky said in an interview, there would have been no problem. Chomsky is, in fact, full of it on the subject of Bosnia and is, in fact, far more of a supporter of Slobodan Milosevic than there is any sense at all in being (this is not to say that AK&W's version of things is the whole truth either, but we can deal with that when someone writes a stitch-up interview with one of them). But the Guardian readers' editor has the responsibility to make sure that interviews published in the Guardian have at least a family resemblance to the interview that took place, and he appears to have done his job very well in the case of this one. I don't understand why Aaro lent his name to this piece of special pleading and Chomsky obsession; presumably Emma Brockes is a mate or protege of his. Let's have a few anecdotes from the Guardian editorial conferences, Dave?

(PS: this is largely reproduced at the Harry's Place comments, which is why it seems familiar if it does).


Blogger Backword Dave said...

"Genocide" is a pretty slippery term. IIRC, it applies retrospecitively to the Native Americans. And, BTW, the US was a democracy since 1776.

Actually, being "full of it about East Timor" is no worse, IMO, than being full of it about anything else. Anyone who says different is wailing "But *my* massacre is more important than your massacre."

Oliver Kamm was the one whoe hadn't written for tehgrauniad; he since has. Big principled boycott on his part there.

3/20/2006 10:43:00 PM  
Anonymous Peter said...

And after all, even if the Bosnian Muslims were the very incarnation of Al-Qaeda it would still not be OK to massacre thousands of them.

Huh? Why not?

3/21/2006 12:19:00 AM  
Anonymous Peter said...

"And after all, even if the Bosnian Muslims were the very incarnation of Al-Qaeda it would still not be OK to massacre thousands of them."

Huh? Why not?

3/21/2006 12:19:00 AM  
Anonymous bruschettaboy said...

because it's not OK to massacre people, Peter. The Geneva Convention is with me on this one, trust me.

3/21/2006 06:38:00 AM  
Anonymous redpesto said...

5. Chomsky "meanwhiles" about Srebenica by banging on about East Timor.

Oh, this is a game all the family can play - NC "meanwhiles" about Iraq by banging on about Darfur, Iranian bus drivers, the price of fish, anyone? (Spot the ringer in those three and win a Metro! [joke])

3/21/2006 01:28:00 PM  
Blogger StuartA said...

I find it amusing that Kamm liked to pretend that he'd withheld a devastating letter for reasons of politeness and decorum. The reality seems more that it was feeble to an embarrassing degree.

I suspect the only reason he went through this absurd process is that he made some stupid comments soon after the interview, saying how valuable Brockes's nonsense was, and felt the need to forestall criticism on that front. Now, even though the Guardian rejected his complaints, he's thrown a little dust up to obscure his misjudgement.

As you say here, the letter doesn't so much defend Brockes as it does Kamm, both in his content-free Prospect article, and in his comments after the interview.

3/24/2006 11:52:00 AM  

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